My favorite Washington state hikes in 2016

It’s the beginning of 2017, and I took a little time to reflect on some of the places we explored this past year, specifically where we hiked.

During the summer months here in Seattle, we try to get out for a hike pretty much every weekend — usually in Cascades — and while we didn’t get out as much as we did in 2015, we managed to hike some epic trails and even got a little more into snowshoeing.

Here’s three of my favorite hikes around Washington state that we explored in 2016:

1. Heather – Maple Pass Loop (North Cascades)

The first, most important thing about this hike is that it leaves from the parking lot at the Rainy Pass PICNIC AREA. Not the Rainy Pass trailhead, which is on the other side of the road and leads you onto a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. We learned this the hard way by hiking about a mile and a half along the wrong trail. I was suspicious by the the third creek crossing, since I hadn’t read anything about water crossings in the trail description. We alerted some fellow confused hikers who arrived in the parking lot as we were getting back in order to head to the correct trailhead. Lucky them.

But once you’re on the right trail for the Heather-Maple Pass Loop trail (7.2 miles, 2000 ft. elevation gain), it’s fantastic.

It starts in the forest and climbs for a bit. About 1.25 miles in, you can break off to Lake Ann, which is pretty muddy and marshy so early in the season. It was kind of cool to see from below before you climb above it, since the whole area is carved out by glaciers. But honestly, it was underwhelming compared with how amazing the views are on the way up to the pass. If you’re pressed for time or don’t want to add another couple miles, it’s okay to skip.

We hiked this on July 4th weekend, and there was still considerable snow at Maple Pass, starting just after Heather Pass. We attempted to traverse it since we had microspikes and hiking poles (better equipped than most other hikers that day), but we got a little sketched out on the steepest slopes approaching the pass. It probably would have been fine, but it was late in the season and a hot day and we didn’t want to risk falling down the mountain. We saw one person successfully make it over the pass.

I have a fairly prominent fear of heights (that I’ve really only discovered by hiking in the PNW), and the slopes, both covered in snow and not, tested my fear for sure. Just don’t look down, just don’t look down.

This hike is great even as an out-and-back, rather than a loop, and it’s definitely worth an overnight trip out to the North Cascades. We’re planning to go back this year and complete the loop for sure.

2. Fremont Lookout (Mount Rainier – Sunrise/White River)

We really like the Sunrise area of Mount Rainer National Park. It’s a little less crazy than Paradise and offers some really unbelievable views of the mountain and surrounding areas.

In late September, we camped at the White River campground in the park and finally hiked the Fremont Lookout trail (5.6 miles, 800 ft. elevation gain) that leaves from the Sourdough Ridge Trailhead near the Sunrise Visitor Center.

We’ve hiked almost all the other trails in that area, including parts of the Glacier Basin loop and the Burroughs Mountain trails. And the Fremont Lookout is great to hike on its own for something relatively short without too much elevation gain (though 800 feet at 7,000 feet elevation is harder than at sea level) or to tack onto the network of trails in the area.

The last leg of the trail heading toward the lookout is a steep, scree slope that offers some great views of Mount Rainier, the valley below and the mountain range out ahead. While we were hiking back down, a fog rolled in and out creating a really dramatic scene for a few minutes.

And the actual lookout tower offers panoramic views of Grand Park, Redstone Peak, Skyscraper Mountain and Berkeley Park. And we saw a family of mountain goats hanging out on the slopes and cute little pikas in the boulder areas.

Here’s a little video my partner made from our weekend out there, including our hike on the Fremont Lookout trail:

3. Commonwealth Basin snowshoe (Snoqualmie Summit)

We recently explored this trail in December of 2016, so it just eeked into my top three for the year.

We’ve really learned to love snowshoeing as an alternative to hiking in the winter months. Because most of the trails in the Cascades are inaccessible during the snowy months, it can be difficult to find some outdoor hiking-ish activities if you aren’t an avid backcountry skier (yet).

We’ve also found that there are kind of limited choices of where to snowshoe, but the Commonwealth Basin trail area is really lovely. You can either snowshoe through the flat creek basin, out and back, for an easy winter wonderland hike, or you can head up the mountain a bit and make it a loop trail, which is what we did. You can choose your own adventure in terms of how long or how strenuous you want it to be. We had a couple of friends with us and it was a nice casual snowshoe uphill for a bit and then down and back around through the creek basin.

It started snowing pretty early this season and so by mid-December there was already several feet of snow in the Snoqualmie Summit area. You probably will have to park at or near the Summit at Snoqualmie ski lodge and walk under the I-90 overpass to get to the trailhead, because the parking area is blocked by a wall of snow.

There are also skiers on the steeper part of the trail, coming down from more backcountry ski areas you can reach from that trail, so just be conscientious of that. And always be careful when going on snowshoe hikes — the risk of avalanche is real and if you don’t know what to look for, try to take an intro class form the Northwest Avalanche Center.

Looking back, my goals for 2017 include getting out on more hikes this summer and learned to ski (and maybe snowboard) before the end of the winter season. As someone who relocated to the Pacific Northwest from the East Coast and Southeast US, I’m still a total newbie at all things snow sports. Hoping to change that slowly but surely!